London: Library of Imperial History, 1974. First edition, only printing. Hardcover. This is a magnificent, complete, 38-volume set of The Collected Works of Sir Winston Churchill, including the four-volume Collected Essays. This lavish production was timed to commemorate the centenary of Churchill's birth. Most sets were bound thus in natural calfskin vellum with 22 ct. gold titling, a gilt Churchill coat-of-arms on the front cover, gilt page edges, green marbled endpapers, green and gold head and foot bands, and satin ribbon markers. The contents were printed on special 500-year archival paper. Each volume was housed in a green leather slipcase, also featuring a gilt Churchill coat-of-arms.
The calfskin vellum was meant to tone and mellow with age. Unfortunately, the vellum typically yellows and browns considerably, often separating from the underlying binding material in the process. Moreover, the green leather slipcases scuff easily and often adhere to one another in the wrong climate conditions, creating significant superficial scarring.
This set is a superlative exception to the customary deficiencies, all 38 volumes in truly fine condition with excellent slipcases showing only a few instances of trivial damage. The bindings are as good as we encounter in a full set. Toning is minimal, virtually uniform, and attractive. It appears this set has spent its life protected in a temperature and humidity controlled environment without exposure to sunlight. The contents are pristine, with no previous ownership marks or observed blemishes. The slipcases show no appreciable scuffing. The only faults noted are a dent to the upper right rear corner of the Volume XX slipcase (not affecting the book within) and some abrasion to the upper left edge of the Volume XXXII opening. One oddity merits mention; there is a minor difference in the grain of the leather used for the Volume III Collected Essays slipcase – an occasional binding variance we have noted in other Collected Works and Collected Essays sets.
Some understandably quibble about the editions used and revisions included in the Collected Works. Few contest that the set testifies handsomely to the life’s literary labors of the man who “already in 1900” had “written as many books as Moses” and did not stop writing them for the next half century “except when momentarily interrupted by war”. (WSC, remarks of 4 July 1950) Three years after his gently irreverent comparison of his authorship to that of Moses, Churchill was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.
The 34 volumes of the Collected Works are virtually a library unto themselves. The set consumes nearly five feet of shelf space and weighs almost 100 pounds, comprising five million words printed on 19,000 pages. The publisher intended to produce 3000 sets. However, the print run never exceeded 2000 copies, and since the books were bound only as orders were taken, it appears that no more than 1750 sets were ever bound and sold by the publisher.
In 1976, the publisher made a welcome addition to The Collected Works. The four-volume Collected Essays of Sir Winston Churchill compile most of Churchill's major forewords and periodical contributions, some of which can be otherwise found only in the original periodical publications. The essays are sorted by subject and each of the volumes has a theme - Churchill and War, Churchill and Politics, Churchill and People, and Churchill at Large. The four-volume sets are highly sought on their own merits and there were two publisher binding options. The lesser of the two was bound in quarter blue morocco and is lovely, but does not match the other 34 volumes of The Collected Works. The more elaborate binding option was full natural calfskin vellum with individual green leather slipcases, exactly matching the 34 volumes of The Collected Works.
Please note that this large, heavy set will be packed with care and shipped at cost, depending on the buyer's destination and shipping preference.
Reference: Cohen AA1, Woods/ICS AA1, Langworth pages 362-369. Item #006206